May 8, 2018 | 3:30pm ET
By Anthony Di Marco, The Fourth Period

FLYERS COULD TARGET TOP FREE AGENTS

 
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Ron Hextall, Flyers GM

 
 

MONTREAL, QC -- Entering this summer, Philadelphia Flyers General Manager Ron Hextall finds himself in a rather unfamiliar position. 

In what has seemingly turned a dramatic 180 degrees since Hextall took over as GM four years ago, the Flyers entered the off-season with significant cap room. With just under $20 million to work with this summer (which could be more if the team elects to buyout Jori Lehtera, and when the salary cap increases), Hextall seems poised to be active once the free agent market opens up on July.1.

Over the course of the first four summers as GM, Hextall has stayed relatively quiet. His biggest free agent signing (in terms of pure dollars) to date was awarding Dale Weise with a four-year, $9.4 million contract back in 2016. That deal was anything but a “blockbuster,” and is representing of how reserved Hextall has been in terms of free agency.

It seems evident that Hextall will have a different approach this summer, as the Flyers are coming out of their “rebuilding” mode. 

Hextall told the media in his end of the year press conference that it is “time to get going” in terms of the Flyers’ development, implying that simply making the playoffs will no longer be considered a success. Team President Paul Holmgren publicly gave Hextall the green-light to spend this summer, telling the media that his GM will have “free rein” in testing the free agent market. 

Taking this into consideration, here are three free agents the Flyers may target this off-season:

Paul Stastny

During his end of the year presser, Hextall eluded to the fact that he hopes to strengthen the position of centre before next season.

With Claude Giroux moving to the left wing this past year, it left the Flyers with Sean Couturier, Nolan Patrick, Valtteri Filppula and one of Scott Laughton or Jori Lehtera as the four guys down the middle. The Flyers’ lack of depth at centre was exposed in the playoffs when Couturier was injured, as the team was hard-matched against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Stastny, 32, is in the midst of a remarkable playoff run with the Winnipeg Jets, in which the forward has recorded 11 points in 11 playoff games. He has stayed productive entering his early 30s, as he has scored at a .67 points-per-game rate over the last three seasons.

Stastny’s depth scoring could be helpful as a third line centre, and would be an immense upgrade from Filppula.

Tyler Bozak

Bozak would fit with the Flyers for all the same reasons that Stastny would. He is the same age as Stastny, and would help the Flyers’ penalty kill that was an absolute train wreck this season.

Bozak has reached the 40-point plateau five times in eight seasons, and would give the Flyers a strong two-way player to centre the third line. Bozak is a strong special teams player, scoring five powerplay goals while getting significant penalty kill time with the Toronto Maple Leafs this year.

John Carlson

As one of the biggest fish in the pond this summer (and the best available defenseman by a mile), Carlson will be receiving a significant contract come July.

The 28-year-old has had a remarkable season, as he set new career highs in goals (15) and points (68) during first-82. Carlson’s future in Washington seems a bit foggy, and he will likely test the market this summer. Although the Flyers have a wealth of young talent on the backend, Carlson’s addition would catapult the Philadelphia defense into the elite class of the NHL.

While Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere have already lived up to the hype that they had coming out of the WHL and NCAA, respectively, the Flyers’ holes on defense are still clear. Travis Sanheim and Robert Hagg are still a little bit away from being consistent top-four defensemen, while Sam Morin is still struggling to stay healthy in the AHL. With Giroux getting up there in age and most of the Flyers’ young players still on young

Veterans Andrew MacDonald and Radko Gudas are best served for bottom-pair roles. With it already being revealed that Brandon Manning won’t be resigned, a defensive spot has already been opened up.

Carlson, Provorov and Gostisbehere would make for one of the better defensive corps in the NHL, and would give the Flyers a consistent right-hand defenseman in the lineup other than Gudas. With Giroux getting up there in age and most of the Flyers’ young players still on inexpensive, striking while the iron is hot may be the best course of action of Hextall.

Carlson will no doubt demand a pretty penny, but it may be worth the cost, as his addition would push the Flyers near the top of the Eastern Conference.

In terms of John Tavares

In light of the recent news that Hextall may be looking to spend big money this summer, a lot of Flyers fans have been suggesting that the team should go after Tavares. Despite his unquestioned super-stardom, it is not what is best for the team.

The Flyers are a young team trending upwards. The team is built around young talent in Provorov, Gostisbehere, Patrick and Travis Konecny, all of whom are 25 years of age and younger. While Gostisbehere is already locked up to a modest six-year deal with an AAV of $4.5 million, the other three will be due new contracts in the not so distant future. Provorov is poised to land a deal hovering around the $7 million AAV mark (best comparable contract is that of Aaron Ekblad’s), while Konecny and Patrick will both get significant contracts.

With the team already having significant money tied up in Giroux and Jakub Voracek (both carry an AAV of over $8 million) over the next four years, it wouldn’t be wise for Hextall to commit big money to another forward. 

Tavares will be getting a seven-year deal with an AAV of no less than $10 million (and will likely be closer to $12 million), and committing close to $30 million in three forwards is not the wise thing to do.

The Flyers are already likely going to lose Wayne Simmonds over the next year due to cap reasons. Adding Tavares’ mega-money to the equation would only result in the team losing a player like Voracek, Konecny or Patrick down the road.

Although Tavares is a superstar, and in my opinion a top-five centre in the NHL, he is just not a fit for the Flyers at this time.

Anthony Di Marco is the NHL Correspondent for The Fourth Period.
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